Favorite Games of 2003

By 2013, the console industry is heating as each console came into its own. I have so many games listed that I expanded my list from ten to twelve. I can only imagine how many games will be included into 2004’s list.

List items

  • Raised on StarCraft, the concept of having a limited number of units, each with their own personalities and relationships to one another was foreign and exciting. No longer could I throw a mass of expendable soldiers at the enemy when in a bind – not if I wanted to keep everyone alive. And should someone die, my only recourse (outside of going on without him or her) is to restart the level. There are exceptions, but those are a minority.

    But that’s standard Fire Emblem, and for Japanese players who have enjoyed the series for over ten years by the time we played our first Fire Emblem game, it was business as usual. For the rest of the world, it was something uniquely its own, forged by six previous games across three platforms. It’s a more story-centric game than we usually expect from Nintendo with a somewhat more mature attitude than the likes of Mario or Advance Wars. It was a side of Nintendo that’s generally reserved for Zelda.

    I loved it. Fire Emblem was my favorite game in the series until 2013’s Fire Emblem Awakening, but it’s still high on my personal list. Fortunately, Nintendo just recently released Fire Emblem on Wii U’s Virtual Console, so anyone can enjoy our inaugural title in HD. Just play it on the gamepad. Game Boy Advance games were never meant to be on modern televisions, and it shows.

  • When played offline, PSO is a deeply flawed, boring game in which players slay waves of insanely dumb monsters. When played online (as always intended, hence “Online” in the title), PSO becomes an addictive dungeon romp that goes from cooperative to competitive with the drop of a rare red box. Players can’t actually fight each other, which is good because it’s easy to imagine most sightings of a red box devolving into a free-for-all.

  • I understand that Return to Castle Wolfenstein has a single-player campaign. It even has several multiplayer modes and levels. I wouldn't know* because I spent my time with one multiplayer level in which the allied soldiers must cross a beach towards a large wall with designated points to blow a hole with TNT. Inside, that team must contend with a multi-level base crawling with axis soldiers defending a piece of intel.

    Like Battlefield, there are various points around the map that players can spawn from when taken by their team, but the smaller size of the level means that these points are often being fought over. This, along with the simple objective and complicated level layout, was so entertaining that Return to Castle Wolfenstein gets the list's placement for this level alone.

    *Okay, I did toy around with the campaign and other multiplayer levels, but neither kept my attention long.

  • If Metal Gear Solid is Hideo Kojima's stab at big-budget film, than Zone of the Enders is his straight-to-DVD anime movie. It's not a long experience, and the voice acting doesn't reach the same quality as MGS, but The 2nd Runner is fast-paced action with a pleasant cell-shaded aesthetic.

    I haven't played the HD Collection, but I imagine that it only improves The 2nd Runner, or perhaps reveals how far the action genre has gone since.

  • For the life of me, I can’t understand why Nintendo has completely dropped the two-characters-per-kart mechanic, which is simply holding two items, one in reserve that can be swapped out whenever. Maybe they realized that it was too easy to hold a blue shell through the entire race, a “Use In Case of Emergency” deal. Regardless, I enjoyed the mechanic and would absolutely like to see it return, even if in a separate mode.

  • Jumping over a hot-dog with wheels, picking your nose, and insert a cartridge into the original Game Boy: alone, such activities wouldn't hold anyone’s interest, but when bundled together with 200+ other 5-second “microgames” and launched at the player in quick succession, boring become surprisingly addictive. It doesn't hurt that these short-lived activities are often ridiculous and/or self-referential (there’s an entire character devoted to Nintendo).

    With consoles now allowing for downloadable games, why we haven’t seen an original WarioWare game for eShop is a bit of a mystery, and a disappointing one at that.

  • Yes, I decried Wind Waker’s cartoony visuals based purely on what I saw in magazines. Yes, I also changed my mind, although it came before seeing the actual game in motion, not after. As the industry (especially on the western side) moved into a color spectrum of brown, black, and gray, I appreciated Wind Waker all the more.

    Wind Waker is a fun game with a delightful story (this is the first Zelda where I felt like they cared about telling a tale), even if I agree with the oft-mentioned criticisms (sailing is boring, the triforce hunt blows). Fortunately, Wind Waker HD lightened some of those frustrations.

  • Before the franchise utilized Michael Bay’s school of big explosions and stupid story, Call of Duty established itself as a somewhat more realistic World War II FPS. Where Medal of Honor saw players almost single-handedly fighting scores of enemies, the original Call of Duty established the tagline “No One Fights Alone,” referencing that players fought alongside a squad or with many, many allies.

    Call of Duty lacked an overarching story, instead simply throwing players into the thick of the war, presumably because we know how World War II ends. It’s a contrast to later Call of Duty games, which not only includes a (generally boring) story, but one in which the playable characters often have a hand in moving forward. I prefer the lack of a story myself.

  • Apparently nobody likes Circle of the Moon anymore, and Harmony of Dissonance seems often ignored, but at least we haven’t turned away from Aria of Sorrow, which brought the series into the future. While the game’s set in 2035, you’d never know outside of a handful of weapons and other elements. You’re traveling through a medieval castle, just like most Castlevania games.

    What is unique is the excellent Tactical Souls system, which allows protagonist Soma to (randomly) “steal” abilities from defeated enemies. Some are attacks, while others help with moving around the castle. It was a great addition.

  • I never played Final Fantasy Tactics before jumping in Tactics Advance. That’s an important thing to note since this GBA sequel apparently isn't held in high regard from fans of the PS1 classic. I played from a viewpoint of ignorance, so I absolutely adored Tactics Advance. Yes, the story lacks the weight (and incomprehensible translation) of Tactics and the Judge system could be annoying, but when you’re not rolled a bad law, it’s a damn fun game.

    Frankly, I stopped doing story missions and tackled the random battles over and over until I grew bored, which took a while. Granted, when I was bored of those random battles, I did stop playing Tactics Advance entirely, but I got quite a bit of time out of that little cartridge.

  • Before I continue with a small mountain of complaints, remember that F-Zero GX’s inclusion in this list mean that I DO like it. My problem is that, quite frankly, GX lacks some of my favorite aspects of its predecessor, F-Zero X. Death Race was removed, and the soundtrack had less guitars and more synth. Finally, I remember GX’s levels lacking the variety of F-Zero X, but I could be remembering wrong. Outside of that, holy crap the voice acting was bad, which kind of contributed to its overall silliness.

    GX was damn fast and startlingly beautiful, although the latter obviously doesn't look as great now. Still, it’s a hell of a racer that’s not afraid to punish, for better or worse.

  • Outside of Super Smash Bros., I don’t dive into the fighting genre that often, but I will admit that I was suckered in by the opportunity to play as “mature Link”. Fortunately, Soulcalibur II (previously, and apparently erroneously, known as Soul Calibur II) is an enjoyable game that manages to sidestep the frustrations of traditional hand-to-hand combat through its use of weapons. Different weapons have different ranges of attack, keeping things interesting.

    And beating up people as Link with a butterfly net was always amusing.